Jordan says in talks with US and Russia to dismantle Syria camp

A Syrian refugee boy plays in front of his family tent at the Al Zaatri refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 18, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Jordan says in talks with US and Russia to dismantle Syria camp

  • Jordan’s foreign ministry said the kingdom backed a Russian plan to arrange the voluntary return of the inhabitants of Rukban camp to their home areas in Syria

AMMAN: Jordan said on Thursday it was in talks with Washington and Moscow to empty a desert camp used by 50,000 displaced Syrians, a move aimed at defusing security tensions near a potential military flashpoint on its northeast border with Syria.
Jordan’s foreign ministry said the kingdom backed a Russian plan to arrange the voluntary return of the inhabitants of Rukban camp to their home areas in eastern Syria following their recapture by the Syrian government from Daesh.
“Jordanian-US-Russian talks have begun with the aim of finding a fundamental solution to Rukban by ensuring the right conditions of their voluntary return to their cities and towns,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al Qatarneh said.
“Jordan supports the Russian plan to create the conditions that allow the emptying of the camp,” he said in a statement.
He did not elaborate.
Intelligence sources say the Russian plan entails negotiating with Syrian tribal leaders and former Western-backed rebels sheltering in the camp area to provide safe passage for returnees to go to opposition areas in northern Syria, and to help those who want to go their homes in state-held areas.
Many camp inhabitants are not ready to go back to homes in state-held areas for fear of being drafted for conscription, tribal figures in the camp say.
Developments at Rukban are watched closely around the region because it is near a US garrison in southeastern Syria at Tanf on the Iraq-Syria border. The camp falls within a so-called deconfliction zone set up by the Pentagon to try to shield the Tanf garrison from attacks by pro-government forces.
Damascus says the US forces are occupying Syrian territory and providing a safe-haven in that area for rebels it deems terrorists.
Jordan officials have repeatedly said they suspect the camp is infiltrated with Daesh sleeper cells, a security nightmare that has haunted Amman since a Daesh militant in 2016 drove a car bomb into a Jordanian military border post, killing seven guards.
In the last three years, tens of thousands of Syrians trekked to the camp where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. They fled expanded Russian and US-led coalition air strikes against Daesh-held areas in central and eastern Syria.
Intelligence sources say a siege of the camp last month by the Syrian army that depleted food stores in the compound and raised the spectre of starvation was aimed at piling pressure on Washington.
Russia’s defense ministry in August repeated an accusation that Washington has been harboring Daesh militants within the zone.
Washington however responded to growing Russian pressure by conducting rare military exercises in the base last month, and General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, made an unannounced visit to Tanf.
Tanf lies on the strategic Damascus-Baghdad highway, once a major supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria. This makes the base a bulwark against Iran and part of a larger campaign against Iranian influence in the Middle East.


US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

Updated 33 min 57 sec ago

US military to present several options to Trump on Iran

  • Donald Trump will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war
  • The US response could involve military, political and economic actions

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon will present a broad range of military options to President Donald Trump on Friday as he considers how to respond to what administration officials say was an unprecedented Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.
In a White House meeting, the president will be presented with a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, and he also will be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, according to US officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The national security meeting will likely be the first opportunity for a decision on how the US should respond to the attack on a key Middle East ally. Any decision may depend on what kind of evidence the US and Saudi investigators are able to provide proving that the cruise missile and drone strike was launched by Iran, as a number of officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted.
Iran has denied involvement and warned the US that any attack will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation from Tehran.
Both Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have condemned the attack on Saudi oil facilities as “an act of war.” Pence said Trump will “review the facts, and he’ll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we’re going to stand with our allies.”
The US response could involve military, political and economic actions, and the military options could range from no action at all to airstrikes or less visible moves such as cyberattacks. One likely move would be for the US to provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north, since most of its defenses have focused on threats from Houthis in Yemen to the south.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized to a small number of journalists traveling with him Monday that the question of whether the US responds is a “political judgment” and not for the military.
“It is my job to provide military options to the president should he decide to respond with military force,” Dunford said.
Trump will want “a full range of options,” he said. “In the Middle East, of course, we have military forces there and we do a lot of planning and we have a lot of options.”
US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Michigan, said in an interview Thursday that if Trump “chooses an option that involves a significant military strike on Iran that, given the current climate between the US and Iran, there is a possibility that it could escalate into a medium to large-scale war, I believe the president should come to Congress.”
Slotkin, a former top Middle East policy adviser for the Pentagon, said she hopes Trump considers a broad range of options, including the most basic choice, which would be to place more forces and defensive military equipment in and around Saudi Arabia to help increase security.
A forensic team from US Central Command is pouring over evidence from cruise missile and drone debris, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not finished. Officials are trying to determine if they can get navigational information from the debris that could provide hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Thursday that the US has a high level of confidence that officials will be able to accurately determine exactly who launched the attacks last weekend.
US officials were unwilling to predict what kind of response Trump will choose. In June, after Iran shot down an American surveillance drone, Trump initially endorsed a retaliatory military strike then abruptly called it off because he said it would have killed dozens of Iranians. The decision underscores the president’s long-held reluctance to embroil the country in another war in the Middle East.
Instead, Trump opted to have US military cyber forces carry out a strike against military computer systems used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to control rocket and missile launchers, according to US officials.